Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Stop the (Charismatic) Insanity!"

The blogosphere has noted the so-called, "Healing Revival" in Lakeland, Florida, and the odd (to say the least) revival preacher, Todd Bentley.

I've read comments, questions and opinions on the blogs or websites of Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, and various stripes of Pentecostals, among others.

Some made me angry because they simply passed on old stereotypes that are largely false. Some made me sad as I saw the damage that was happening. Some I agreed with. I have, until now, refrained from mentioning the goings-on in Florida for several reasons:

1. To non Pentecostals many thing that seem reasonable to me might seem "whacky." I think that this is largely a matter of culture or expectation of what church "should" be like--but that is an issue for a different day and a different post.

2. I can't really comment on something I'm just hearing about, not with any degree of objectivity. I didn't plan on visiting Florida, so I stayed quiet.

3. I love my Pentecostal brothers and sisters and don't want us to be bashed. Enough of that happens without me helping it along.

4. God still heals. That does not mean that if we say the words right, pray often enough, or have faith enough that it has to happen. But I do believe in what the AG calls "divine healing" and I've seen it enough to not want to criticize or deny or hinder what God may be doing.

5. I believe the Holy Spirit works in unusual ways sometimes. The Holy Spirit certaintly does use people that would not be my choice! Odd people can be vessels for God too. I also believe that the human body can react to the presence of God's power in ways that are a bit unusual.

6. I left my former denomination because my views on the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world changed. (I did not leave solely because of the "woman" issue," though that was part of it).

7. I loved God and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit from the time I was a young child. Why? I do not know. I also loved the Bible. I had a heart that was hungry for God, even though there were times of confusion, doubt and anger with God. When I first encountered Pentecostals I was scared of them, but drawn as well. I was patronizing and condescending and gently mocking. Many years later, my life changed profoundly when I ended up at First Assembly of God, Jacksonville, N.C. and met the Rev. Joe Stenson and his wife. I did not (and I still don't) agree with all I saw, heard, or was taught by my beloved, "Brother Stenson" but the presence of God was undeniable, the love of the saints in that church was amazing, their earnest prayer was astounding. They were reaching folks that no other church in town wanted to deal with. I endured some extremely difficult days because of attending that wonderful church, but there was no going back. I am, to the degree I am able, loyal.

8. I believe in supernatural times, times when God is moving in unusual ways that change the world and change history and change the course of the Church. I do believe that there is such a thing as genuine revival and I have been a student of some of the historic times when this occurred. It is fascinating.

BUT

My heart is heavy and I am disappointed, disgusted, concerned, distressed and angry--not to mention embarrassed.

I ask my brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal / Charismatic camp of Christendom, "What is it going to take for us to come to our senses?" By "us" I am not saying each and every one of us. I know that many are concerned and dismayed. I mean "us" as in all of us as a whole.

In the spring of this year, Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley was invited to speak to the Ignited Church of Lakeland, FL. Things began to happen, crowds began to grow, there were reports of healing. Some began to call it the new Azusa Street. There were also reports of bizarre methods and lots of talk of angels, specifically one Bentley called "Emma. " Bentley began yelling "BAM" as he prayed and sometimes shoved, pushed or even hit those who came for prayer. There were reports of people "barking"--and more. I watched a chilling (to me) video of Bentley doing things that would have made me run out the back door as fast as I could go. But the congregation ate it up, laughing, and shouting encouragement. Amidst it all, there were accounts of lives transformed and physical healings.

As we saw a few years ago in the "Brownsville Revival," pastors travelled to Florida. Some took busloads from their churches. In a town not far from me, an independent Pentecostal pastor and some of his church leaders who had attended the meetings held a series of church services in which he purported to give the "Lakeland anointing" to those who came for "impartation prayer." Some of us in the area received an invitation. This, the letter informed me, would spread the move of God in Florida to our area in Wisconsin.

A few people in my church asked me if I was going. (No.) Why not? Among other things, because I see no example in scripture of anyone being able to "impart" power from God to another individual. The scripture actually is abundantly clear that it is the Holy Spirit who decides about gifting, not any person. Yes, the Apostle Paul did speak of wising to "impart some gift." Praying for the people to receive whatever gifts the Holy Spirit has for them, and encouraging them, is NOT the same thing as passing around the work of the Spirit. This, to me, is beyond arrogance. Perhaps the Lakeland anointing (if there genuinely was one) was for Lakeland, not Wisconsin. Another couple told me about God Tube's nightly broadcasts from Lakeland and urged me to watch. I did not do so. I also did not criticize.

Our newly-elected Assemblies of God General Superintendent, George O. Wood, broadcast and published a word of caution and some helpful observations here, "A Statement on Revival", and he urged us to exercise wisdom and discernment and to see if what passed for the work of God lined up with scripture or followed the example of Jesus.

Charisma editor, preacher and writer, J. Lee Grady, pleaded for caution (while avoiding criticism). Grady is not afraid of emotion, has seen people healed, delivered, etc. in his meetings and is a long-time exuberant Pentecostal (not Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Holiness Church, I think). His love for God and the Church is remarkable. Yet, simply for calling for caution and a degree of reason, he was called names, rebuked and viciously criticized.

Now Bentley is stepping down after filing for separation from his wife and admitting to an inappropriate relationship with another woman on his staff.

Yesterday I took a look at a copy of the latest Charisma, paying particular attention to the "Letters to the Editor" section. One letter in particular caused me to shake my head. The letter writer began by praising the Lakewood revival and saying she had been there several times. She recounts that she has received several healings. Perhaps so. That didn't disturb me. This quote did: "It is sad that Body of Christ judges its own. I guess things were the same when Jesus walked the earth."

Do we understand that to"judge" as in to observe and think and make rational decisions is not the same as being judgemental and arrogant (which, if the context is read, is clearly what Jesus was instructing us not to do in that passage)? I like how Peterson puts it in The Message, " Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment." Amen to that! The ban on any "judging" cannot mean, as the letter writer patronizingly implied, that we are not to question anything another believer does. Or perhaps it's just that caution is needless if the speaker is exciting! (She didn't say that. I couldn't resist.)

Jesus warned us about "wolves in sheep's clothing"--people who would look and sound legitimate for a while, but inside they were quite different. Imagine the damage a wolf can do in a flock of sheep. Once again, there is blood in the flock of God, and the name and cause of our Lord Jesus Christ is compromised.

The New Testament Epistles caution repeatedly about false teachers and prophets and we are told to examine, to judge, (oh, bad word), discern, use caution, and more. The Apostle Paul talks about how leaders have a responsibility to safeguard those under their care, and he says, "It
isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside..." I Cor. 5:12-13

In response to a blog post elsewhere that was critical of Todd Bentley, an Internet commenter said, "He must be from God, or he couldn't do the things he does." That statement is incredibly naive, and it borders on cultic thinking. If we have become so enamored of the spectacular, we are ripe for heresy and deception of all kinds. Jesus told us that some would do amazing things-- and yet he would say "I never knew you."

Have we completely forgotten the last two decades? Do we not recall the long list of our Charismatic "heroes" who turned out to be less than they appeared? Have we closed our eyes, covered our ears and hummed loudly as the news came about those who had
commited criminal acts, had affairs, lied, cheated, or at the very least did something beyond foolish?

I am afraid. I fear we American Pentecostals are addicted to hype. Will "ordinary" humility, grace, love, prayer, good works, peace, and justice suffice? Are we tired yet of the prophecy conferences that claim to instruct us how to be seers? Are we tired of "life changing" seminars? Are we sick of the cotton candy spirituality of "events?" Can we stop running to find the latest and greatest new thing? Are we nauseated yet by a surfeit of slick and flashy and empty junk?

Over the last few months, J. Lee Grady's column "Fire in My Bones" included several articles regarding the Lakeland revival. After the notice of Bentley's affair, he wrote "Life After Lakeland: Sorting Through the Confusion." It includes several pointed questions. All of them deserve careful consideration by my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters, and the link will take you to the column. But here is one question that I think strikes to the heart of the problem.

Why did so many people flock to Lakeland from around the world to rally behind an evangelist who had serious credibility issues from the beginning?

To put it bluntly, we’re just plain gullible.

From the first week of the Lakeland "Shaka Boomba”
(as Bentley often prayed from his pulpit), many people went home, prayed for people and shoved them to the floor with reckless abandon, Bentley-style.

I blame this lack of discernment, partly, on raw zeal for God. We’re spiritually hungry—which can be a good thing. But sometimes, hungry people will eat anything.

Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up.

I recall a wise Pentecostal preacher's words a few years ago as the world began to realize the depth and breadth of the scandals regarding priests in the Roman Catholic Church. In response to an unkind comment from one of our AG clergy colleagues, he said, "Understand this, what happens to any church, any denomination, affects us all. Don't be so foolish as to think that if the Catholic priest in your town is discovered to be a pedophile, that it would not affect you, every other pastor, minister, and every other Christian believer. What affects any part of the church world affects all of us."

Please allow me, friends of other branches of the church tree, to apologize for the damage that our lack of wisdom, lack of judgement and lack of humility may have caused you and your efforts to share the Good News of God's love and grace through Christ. May God forgive us. And peers in the Assemblies of God and similar churches and organizations, I ask, can we return to humility? Can we seek the Spirit and not spiritual manifestations? Can we mature? I pray we can before it is too late. Will you join me in praying for Todd Bentley and his wife and children and "the other woman"? And for the sheep who are, once again, bloody? Will you join me in repentance on behalf of our churches and our cities and our nation and our world?

May God have mercy on us and give us wisdom. May the Holy Spirit show us the way of repentance and genuine renewal.

19 comments:

theFutureRev.Cody said...

My Reverend Friend,

I very much appreciate your desire to protect and defend your Pentecostal brothers and sisters. That, I think, is commendable, even when you don't agree with some.

I find myself a moderate when it comes to Confessionalism and Evangelicalism. While I adhere to the Confessional side of things, I fully understand and am fully comfortable with the Evangelical side of things. Most of my "mainliner" friends don't understand or care to understand the Pentecostal practices of divine healing, speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc., etc.

I fully believe in the gifts of the Spirit, including (but not limited to): prophesying, speaking in tongues, divine healing, mercy, etc., etc. It boils my blood when mainline Protestants write off Pentecostals as crazy or heretical. I may not agree with all of the Pentecostal doctrines and ideologies, but I respect them nonetheless.

I think you will find clergy and church representatives misusing their office and authority in every denomination, Singing Owl. The Catholic Church had it's period under the microscope, the Lutherans have had their's, the Pentecostals are having their's now.

All we can do is pray that God gives guidance to those in the position of making decisions and forgiveness for those who have abused their office in Christ's Holy Church.

And in the mean time...

Rejoice! He is not dead! Alleluia!

Blessings,

Cody

cheesehead said...

(o)

Iris said...

Thank you, Singing Owl.

Singing Owl said...

Brother Cody, some day you are going to a be a very good minister. And that is an understatement.

Eclectic Christian said...

Wonderful post. God has given you great wisdom.

much2ponder said...

This is very good and needs to be said in a larger forum. You know exactly how I feel about this. Good post!

Singing Owl said...

Well, my little forum is all I got. ;-)

seethroughfaith said...

I have been praying for the spirit of discernment (and the courage and wisdom to spreak up)to be restored to the church

your speaking up here owl is (part of) an answer to prayer.

thank you!

Anonymous said...

let he who is without sin cast the first stone. i don't see that in your post

Singing Owl said...

True, anonymous. But I did comment that Jesus did tell us not to be judgemental or arrogant. Jesus didn't go around "casting stones" at everyone, but neither did he hesitate to speak the truth, even when it didn't always sound sweet. Take a look at some of those conversations with the Pharisees during the last week of his life! It seems that those who claim to be guides and spiritual leaders for others came under the Lord's closest scrutiny--and sharpest words.

seethroughfaith said...

actually anon we see a lot of humility here in owl's post. She identifies with the sins that have been committed. She repents and asks for forgiveness and asks for a Spirit-filled way forward for the whole of the church.

"Please allow me, friends of other branches of the church tree, to apologize for the damage that our lack of wisdom, lack of judgement and lack of humility may have caused you and your efforts to share the Good News of God's love and grace through Christ. May God forgive us. And peers in the Assemblies of God and similar churches and organizations, I ask, can we return to humility? Can we seek the Spirit and not spiritual manifestations? Can we mature? I pray we can before it is too late. Will you join me in praying for Todd Bentley and his wife and children and "the other woman"? And for the sheep who are, once again, bloody? Will you join me in repentance on behalf of our churches and our cities and our nation and our world?"

As I see it being too afraid to cast any stones is not healthy either. God judges our hearts and it's my evaluation that Owl here is not trying to pull down and discredit for the sake of it- but rather to seek God in the midst of this confusion.

Todd Bentley messed up. Anyone who pretends otherwise is working with the enemy. But if he's sincere in seeking God he will find Him. If he repents He will be forgiven. In the meantime people are hurting because they sought an idol (healing) instead of Jesus and His spirit.

it is not wrong to highlight that and say - "by the grace of God help us never to do this again"

Anonymous said...

AMEN!

Diane said...

Singing Owl, this was a very good, reasonable and thoughtful response. I wasn't aware of what has been going on down in Florida. I am not ready to "throw out" everything in Pentecostalism, but there have been a few things I have been wary of. I like to say that I have a very warm affection for the experience of Pentecostalism, but not all of the doctrines that go with it.

But I also worried that people kind of got addicted to a spiritual "high" and kept looking for a bigger and bigger one. I think in all of our lives, there are moments of high emotion (in my denomination I think we are sometimes too afraid of those) and desert times as well.

Well, I've gone on and on, here in the middle of the night. take care...

Singing Owl said...

You know, doctrine aside (someday when we sit down for the face-to-face talk maybe we'll discuss it--or not)I think you brought up something important. Some of "our folks" get almost addicted to that spiritual "high"--and some of your folks are afraid of them. Both are sad, wrong, missing God's best way. Balance! It is the key word of my life, and so difficult to find and maintain!

Crimson Rambler said...

so MUCH wisdom and love in what you've written here, Owl, thank you -- and God bless you.

Kievas said...

I hadn't heard about this, but this is a very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post. Although I've never personally witnessed an example of miraculous healing, I have no doubt that God does work in this way. I think we often overlook the "small" miracles that God works in our lives when seeking the "big" ones.

Andrea said...

Thank you for this post. I am a little late to finding it, not at all surprised something like this took place, and grieved to learn that it did. My mother was very enthusiastic about this whole movement while it was happening, and I had to tell her that I was deeply wary, which caused some hurt and confusion between us. I just don't even know what to think now, because it's one of those things where I'd have been so very much happier to have been wrong.

Auntie Knickers said...

I, also, am catching up here and was not aware of the Florida happenings. There was so much wisdom in your post and in the comments of other RGBPs (anonymous, not so much!) Cody is right, we all (denominations) fall short in some way, we each have our turn as "bad shepherds" get the publicity. And then there are the good shepherds -- like you -- who are not as well publicized. Prayers as you asked, and keep up the good work.

Tiber Jumper said...

nice post.
I have been there done that and bought several of the tee shirts for 31 years. Surprise of all surprises my relationship with Jesus has been jump-started once again in the Catholic Church. No hype anymore. Jesus comes to us in every service regardless of how good or bad the sermon is, how "anointed" the singing is. And we have healing, miracles and all of the charismatic stuff, if you want it as well!
God bless
Tiber Jumper